This week’s challenging and pesky little collection of words were:
refresh :: firm handshake :: poach :: salary :: jazz
And here is what I made of them…
Café au Clay
He walks into Café Refresh, six minutes to eight on the nose, like he’s done every weekday morning for the past year and a half. He puts away his phone with a flourish as he walks through the door, exactly like he did yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. He nods his head, absentmindedly, to the smooth jazz playing softly over the speakers as he stands in line for his coffee. He searches the board, like he’s making a well-considered choice. He even frowns, just a little, like he’s thinking hard about what to order.
Today is going to be the day. I’m ready.
Three people between us.
‘Morning!’ I’ll have a…’
‘Regular Americano and a brown scone, no jam. Comin’ right up.’ The coffee is already starting to pour, and his tray is trimmed. I saved the nicest scone I could find and kept it to one side for him, first thing when I came in this morning. I folded up a napkin, and made sure his knife was gleaming. I even put his butter into a little pot.
As I speak, he leans back a little, blinking.
‘Well. You’re on the ball today!’ he says, with a laugh. Maybe it’s the surprise in his voice, and maybe it’s the mirth, but suddenly, I feel stupid. My hand shakes, making the spoon tinkle against his coffee mug. He takes hold of the tray and steadies my grip, and I find myself wondering whether he has a firm handshake, and whether he plays sport. What he does at weekends. Whether he reads poetry. What he likes…
Then I see him looking at me with a raised eyebrow, and I feel like someone’s filled my head with boiling water.
‘Right, well… um. That’ll be four twenty-five, please, sir.’
‘As it always is,’ he says, handing me a crisp five-euro note. I ring up his purchase and the till pops open. I reach over to give him back his change, but he’s already walking towards the milk-and-sugar station.
‘No, no, love – you keep the shrapnel,’ he says, over his shoulder. ‘God knows your salary can’t be up to much. Or is it ‘wages’, just, when you’re in the service industry?’ His voice is too loud, and I feel like my heart is too big, suddenly, its thump filling my whole chest. I watch his shoulders as he chuckles, and I burn.
He walks back past me again, throwing me a wink.
‘Keep up the good work, and you might even find a Starbucks talent-spotter coming in here to poach you. If you keep your nose clean, that is.’
He snorts with laughter as he finds his way towards his normal window seat. He opens his newspaper with a crack, and gets lost inside the business pages.
I breathe. I unlock my teeth.
I put his change into my pocket, and I think: Tomorrow morning, I’ll swap the sugar sachets with salt. We’ll see who’s laughing then.